Papers of John Adams, volume 14

From Edmund Jenings

To John Howard

To William Lee, 15 March 1783 Adams, John Lee, William
To William Lee
Dear sir, Paris. March. 15th. 1783—

Yours of the 9th. is just put into my hands. In answr: to your question, respecting the particular desire of the K. of Sweden to make a Treaty with Dr. Franklin, I can give you no other satisfaction than by sending you the words of the Dr's: letter to Congress, as sent me by your Brother, vizt. “The Ambassador, fm. Sweden to this Court, applied to me lately, to know if I had Powers that wd. authorise my making a Treaty with his Master, in behalf of the U: S:. Recollecting a general one, that was formerly given to me, with the other Commissioners, I answd. in the affermative. He seemed much pleased & said, the K. had directed him to ask the Question & had charged him to tell me, that he had so great an esteem for me, that it would be a very particular satisfaction to him to have such a transaction with me. I have, perhaps, some vanity in repeating this; but, I think too, it is right the Congress should know it, & judge if any use can be made of the reputation of a Citizen for the public Service.”—1

Dr: F. knew that Mr: Dana had power in his Commission to treat with the K. of Sweden, & that, consequently, the old Resolution of Congress was quo ad hoc superceded, & consequently the answr: to the Ambassador should have been, “I have not power, but Mr: Dana has”— But the feelings, if not the rights of every American Minister in Europe have been wantonly sacrificed to Dr: F.’s vanity—

You know the old acquaintance of the C. de V. at the Swedish Court, from whence, as I conjecture, this mænuvre originated.2 It seems to have been the policy to prevent any other American than Dr: F.—from obtaining reputation in Europe—that, when he shd. die, all opinion of American wisdom & virtue should die with 335him: or, more probably, Dr: F. was thought to be more pliable than some others. il sçavoit mieux se donner aux convenances et bien seances—3

Congress have been much of yr: opinion, wn: left to their own good Sense, of the propriety of having Ministers at the several principal Courts; but great pains have been taken to baffle it, by secretly counteracting their designs, and even by procuring Instructions to Ministers wh: have defeated their missions. I have long & severely smarted under the anguish, occasioned by such means, but by patience, perseverance, & obstinacy, if you will, I broke thro’ all the Snares, fm. every quarter in Holland & exhibited to the world a demonstration in practice of the error of their Theory: But this has thrown a Ridicule on some Characters that will never be forgiven me—

Dr: F. has given his whole weight to the System, wh. you & I, have tho’t wrong. Mr: Dana has a letter, under his hand, in which he says boldly, “that Congress were wrong in sending a Minister to Berlin, Vienna, Tuscany, Madrid, Holland, & Petersburg & the Neutral Courts.”4 Endeavors of a thousand sorts have been made to ridicule such missions, by calling them begging Embassies, “political forlorn hopes”5 &ca:— The Missions to Holland & Petersburg, however in my opinion, have done more towards bringing the war to an end, & towards the handsome terms obtained by the Peace, than any battle or seige, by land or Sea, during the whole war— The world & posterity must judge whether our system or theirs was right: But they ought not to make such personal attacks upon us because we differed fm. them in System—

We shd. not be too much irritated by what has been done wrong in such great affairs; but we shd. learn wisdom by experience— Mr: Dana will take it kindly if you write him yr: tho’ts of a Treaty with the Emperor, & the variations fm. the French, wh: ought to be made—6

With esteem I am, &c:

LbC in Charles Storer's hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Willm: Lee Esqr:—”; APM Reel 108.


This quotation is from Franklin's letter to Robert R. Livingston of 25 June 1782, but JA is quoting the text as supplied to him by Arthur Lee in a letter of 1 Oct. 1782 (Franklin, Papers , 37:535–539; JA, Papers , 13:508–510).


The Comte de Vergennes served as France's ambassador to Sweden from 1771 to 1774, but see Lee's reply of 27 March, and note 7, below.


JA refers to an anonymous report sent by Edmund Jenings in a letter of 14 Nov. 1781 that the French (i.e., Vergennes) lacked full confidence in JA because of his rigidity and refusal to accommodate himself to 336diplomatic proprieties. Instead, they placed their confidence in Benjamin Franklin, finding him much more complaisant (vol. 12:66–67). For JA's initial reaction to the report in his reply to Jenings of 29 Nov. and for a later more detailed response in the Boston Patriot of 17 Nov. 1810, see same, p. 96–98, 259.


This is Franklin's 7 April 1781 letter to Francis Dana offering advice on Dana's mission to Russia (Franklin, Papers , 34:517–519). For Franklin's comments and JA's thoughts regarding them, see Dana's letter of 18 April and JA's reply of the same date (vol. 11:266–270). For additional remarks by JA on the wisdom of sending American diplomats to European courts, this time in a 6 Sept. 1782 letter to Robert R. Livingston, see vol. 13:431–432, 435.


This phrase may have been taken from the Marquis de Lafayette's 20 Jan. 1783 letter to William Carmichael. There Lafayette wrote that “Dignity forbade our sending abroad Political forlorn hopes, & I ever objected to the Condescention; the more so, as a French treaty had secured their Allies to you & because America is more likely to receive advances than to need throwing herself at other People's feet” (PCC, No. 156, f. 308–311). The marquis enclosed a copy of the letter with his to John Jay of 15 Feb. (Lafayette, Papers , 5:94–97). Since Jay knew of JA's views regarding American diplomatic representation in Europe, it is likely that he showed his colleague the copy of Lafayette's letter.


For Lee's initial decision to write to Dana concerning negotiations with Austria and then his judgment that such a letter was unnecessary, see his letters of 27 March and 24 April, both below.